'The rivalry will always be there': New-look U.S. men's national team is eager to tangle with Mexico

The Washington Post

Any time the United States and Mexico clash on the soccer field, whether at the youth level or in a World Cup qualifier, tackles come with extra venom, goals elicit prolonged celebration and the banter between supporters is, let's say, more animated.

But as the regional rivals assembled here for their first meeting in 15 months, a Tuesday night friendly at Nissan Stadium, the figurative temperature is lower than usual.

Consider:

-It's the early days of a fresh, four-year World Cup cycle.

-Both teams have interim coaches, and both governing bodies have new presidents.

-Both were outclassed Friday by South American powers.

-Both are reshaping their rosters as veterans are weaned and prospects introduced.

-Neither has any meaningful competitions until next summer's Concacaf Gold Cup.

In other words, no matter how it plays out, this game is unlikely to join the long list of epic encounters between sworn adversaries.

Nonetheless, it's the United States vs. Mexico, which over the past 25 years has grown into one of the sport's fiercest, semiregular brawls.

"With Mexico, it's very important because it becomes a little more personal," U.S. acting coach Dave Sarachan said Monday. "There is a real history. There is a real rivalry. That doesn't go away, even in friendlies."

This meeting comes in the wake of Mexico reestablishing itself as the best in the region, breezing to World Cup qualification last year and beating Germany in its tournament opener in Russia this summer before bowing out in the round of 16 for the seventh consecutive time.

The United States missed the World Cup for the first time since 1986 and, with Sarachan serving as caretaker while General Manager Earnie Stewart and the U.S. Soccer Federation mull long-term coaching options, a younger generation is building toward the 2022 event in Qatar.

Several members of this U.S. roster — with an average age of 23 1/2 — have tangled with Mexico in junior circles and will receive their first taste of the senior vitriol Tuesday.

"Watching it on TV is one thing. Now being in the middle of it will completely be another thing," said New York Red Bulls midfielder Tyler Adams, 19. "The rivalry will always be there. . . . [At the youth level], they are fun games; they are competitive matches and really test your ability."

French-based defender Matt Miazga, 23, added that facing Mexico under any circumstances provides "an extra edge and bite."

This game features a roster twist: Mexican midfielder Jonathan Gonzalez, 19, might start against the country where he was born and grew up (in Northern California) and played for youth national teams for many years. With dual citizenship, he chose last winter to represent Mexico and compete for a World Cup roster spot, but he was not selected.

Over the years, almost all Mexican Americans with multiple options have played for the United States.

"It's a personal decision," Sarachan said, "and I respect it."

Gonzalez is a regular for Mexican club Monterrey. In Friday's 4-1 loss to Uruguay in Houston, he entered at the start of the second half for his second national team appearance.

As for his players, Sarachan said he plans to make four to six changes to the lineup that fell to Brazil, 2-0, on Friday in East Rutherford, N.J. In recent days, two starters from that match rejoined their clubs: Wolfsburg defender John Brooks and D.C. United midfielder Paul Arriola, whose team has an MLS match Wednesday.

The U.S. roster stands at 22 players, more than half of whom are relatively new to the cause. Tim Weah, the electrifying 18-year-old attacker from French titan Paris Saint-Germain, seems likely to start after coming off the bench against Brazil.

After watching his team labor to keep the ball against third-ranked Brazil, Sarachan said he would like to see "more possession and quality when we have the ball, a little more imagination and creativity when we get to good spots going forward."

Mexico is also working in young players under interim boss Ricardo Ferretti. Four made senior debuts against Uruguay, and five others could do the same Tuesday.

"You're going to see a lot of changes" from the Uruguay game, said Ferretti, who in building this roster did not summon veterans Andres Guardado and Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez. Hirving Lozano, a breakout star at the World Cup, played Friday before returning to his Dutch club, PSV Eindhoven.

Setting aside World Cup qualifiers and other official competitions, the United States is 7-0-4 in its past 11 friendlies against Mexico, its most recent defeat coming in 1999. The Americans are 6-8-2 in that span in matches that matter.

"They're likely to bring in some new faces; we're likely to bring in some new faces," Sarachan said. "And once again this will represent a good test for our young group."

First published by the Washington Post

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
77°